Symptoms of Bipolar Depression in the elderly

9 Confounding Symptoms of Bipolar Depression in the Elderly

Writen By: Faiza Saifur
Reviewed By: Huma Khan
Publish Date: August 26, 2023

So if you are wondering about the Symptoms of Bipolar Depression in the elderly, sit back and read as we uncover them through our in-depth research and analysis. 

Bipolar disorder in older people, also known as late-life bipolar disorder, is a mental health condition where a person goes through extreme changes in their mood and energy levels. They have times when they feel really happy, and energetic and do things without thinking about the consequences (manic episodes). 

A manic episode is a mental state that is marked by long-lasting high levels of enthusiasm, joy, and pleasure. Severe changes in mental and emotional state might cause problems at home, in the workplace, or at college. The primary characteristic of bipolar disorder is mania. 

At other times, they feel very sad, lose interest in things, and have low energy (depressive episodes, also known as Bipolar depression). It’s a long-term condition that needs ongoing treatment with medicine and therapy. With the right support and treatment, people with bipolar depression can live well and handle their symptoms effectively.

Symptoms of bipolar depression in the elderly can present in various ways. Common symptoms may include persistent sadness or feelings of emptiness, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, significant changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances (such as insomnia or excessive sleeping), fatigue or loss of energy, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide.

In this article, we will focus on exploring the symptoms of bipolar depression in elderly individuals. So without further ado, let’s uncover the symptoms in detail.

Key Takeaways

  • Symptoms of Bipolar depression in the elderly, which are different from unipolar depression symptoms may present with symptoms such as persistent sadness, loss of interest, changes in appetite or weight, sleep disturbances, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.
  • Recognizing and accurately diagnosing bipolar depression in older adults can be challenging due to potential overlap with other medical and psychiatric conditions, highlighting the importance of thorough assessment and evaluation.
  • Bipolar depression in the elderly can significantly impact their overall well-being and quality of life, necessitating tailored treatment approaches and support strategies to address their unique needs.
  • Effective management of bipolar depression symptoms in the elderly involves a combination of appropriate medication, therapy, and a holistic approach that considers the individual’s overall health and social support system. 
  • Regular monitoring and collaboration with healthcare professionals are crucial for optimal outcomes.

Symptoms Of Bipolar Depression in the Elderly

Due to the complexity of aging, bipolar depression in the elderly can present new challenges and symptoms. It is critical to note that symptoms manifest differently in older people. Here are some of the most typical symptoms of bipolar depression in the elderly:

Persistent sadness: 

Older people may suffer persistent sadness for most of the time, which is difficult to distinguish from the regular sadness and grieving associated with aging.

Social withdrawal:

Individuals may become increasingly socially isolated as they age owing to causes such as retirement, the loss of friends or loved ones, and decreased mobility, which can increase feelings of despair.

Exhaustion and Low Energy:

Older people may already be experiencing age-related exhaustion and decreased energy levels, making it difficult to differentiate between normal tiredness and depressive symptoms.

Cognitive Impairment: 

Bipolar depression in the elderly may present with memory troubles, confusion, and difficulty focusing, which can be misunderstood as indications of age-related cognitive decline.

Sleep Disturbances: 

Sleep problems are common in older adults, and bipolar depression can disrupt sleep patterns, which leads to insomnia (sleeplessness) or hypersomnia.

Physical Aches and Pains:

Older individuals may be additionally susceptible to physical health issues, and depressive symptoms can worsen feelings of bodily distress.

Changes in Appetite and Weight

Bipolar depression can affect appetite and weight in older people, which can be worrying, particularly when they are already sensitive to nutritional depletion.

Increased Suicidal Thoughts:

Older adults facing depression may have a higher risk of suicidal thinking or self-harm, making it important for caregivers and healthcare providers to be attentive to monitoring mental health in this population.

Comorbidity with Other Health Conditions:

Late-life bipolar depression can occur simultaneously with other medical ailments common in older adults, potentially confusing symptom presentation and treatment.

How does bipolar depression affect the elderly?

Physical health complications:

Bipolar depression can contribute to or worsen physical health conditions in the elderly. The stress and disruptions caused by mood episodes can negatively impact overall health, potentially leading to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems, metabolic disorders, and other health issues.

Cognitive difficulties: 

Bipolar depression can affect cognitive function in the elderly. They may experience difficulties with memory, attention, and decision-making, which can further impact their daily functioning and quality of life.

Social and family relationships: 

The fluctuations in mood and energy levels associated with bipolar depression can strain relationships with family, friends, and caregivers. Elderly individuals may have difficulty maintaining social connections or face challenges receiving appropriate support due to the episodic nature of the disorder.

Increased risk of comorbidities:

The presence of bipolar depression in the elderly is often accompanied by other mental health conditions or medical comorbidities. These can include anxiety disorders, substance abuse, sleep disorders, and chronic medical conditions, further complicating their overall health and well-being.

Medication management: 

Elderly individuals with bipolar depression may require medication to manage their symptoms. However, medication management can be more complex in older adults due to factors such as polypharmacy (taking multiple medications), potential interactions with other medications, and age-related changes in metabolism.

Impact on independence and daily functioning:

Bipolar depression can interfere with the ability of elderly individuals to maintain their independence and engage in daily activities. The mood fluctuations, cognitive difficulties, and energy changes can make it challenging to adhere to routines, carry out self-care tasks, and meet personal obligations.

Increased risk of suicide:

Elderly individuals with bipolar depression have a higher risk of suicide compared to the general population. It is crucial to monitor for signs of suicidal thoughts or behaviors and ensure appropriate support and intervention are in place.

What treatment options are available for elderly individuals with bipolar depression?

Treatment options for elderly individuals with bipolar depression often involve a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle adjustments. Medications may include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and atypical antipsychotics. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help individuals develop coping strategies and manage their symptoms effectively. Additionally, maintaining a stable routine, engaging in regular exercise, and seeking social support are beneficial.

What role can children play to help elderly people with bipolar depression?

Supporting elderly individuals with bipolar depression requires patience, empathy, and understanding. Here are some ways kids can help their elderly loved ones cope:

  • Learn about bipolar disorder and depression to better understand what your elderly loved one is experiencing. This knowledge will help you provide informed and compassionate support.
  • Mood fluctuations are a hallmark of bipolar disorder. Be patient and understanding when your loved one goes through different emotional states. Avoid judgment and criticism.
  • Sometimes, all someone needs is someone to listen without judgment. Allow your elderly loved one to express their feelings and concerns, and be present without trying to “fix” their emotions.
  • Suggest seeking professional help, such as therapy or counseling. A mental health professional can provide coping strategies, medication management, and support tailored to their needs.
  • Encourage your loved one to engage in activities that promote mental and emotional well-being, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and maintaining social connections.
  • Foster an environment where your loved one feels safe and supported. Show them that you are available to help when they need it, whether it’s running errands, cooking a meal, or just spending time together.
  • If your loved one is on medication, assist them in staying on track with their prescribed regimen. Set up reminders and ensure they attend appointments with their healthcare provider.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of a bipolar episode, whether it’s mania or depression. This awareness can help you offer appropriate support and encourage the seeking of professional help when needed.
  • Isolation can worsen depressive symptoms. Encourage your loved one to maintain social connections by participating in activities they enjoy or spending time with friends and family.
  • Sometimes, day-to-day tasks can feel overwhelming. Offer practical assistance, such as helping with chores, grocery shopping, or managing paperwork.
  • Learn about triggers that might worsen bipolar depression. Avoiding or managing these triggers can help prevent depressive episodes.
  • Let your loved one know that you care for and support them. Express your love and appreciation regularly, reminding them that they are not alone in their journey.


What are the common signs and symptoms of bipolar depression in older adults?

Common signs and symptoms of bipolar depression in older adults include persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite and sleep patterns, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide. It’s important to note that symptoms may vary from person to person.

How is bipolar depression in the elderly diagnosed?

Diagnosing bipolar depression in the elderly involves a thorough evaluation by a healthcare professional, typically a psychiatrist. The diagnosis is based on the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and a comprehensive psychiatric assessment. Sometimes, additional tests may be conducted to rule out other medical conditions that can mimic bipolar depression.

What is the difference between unipolar depression and bipolar depression?

Having said that, bipolar and unipolar depression have been compared extensively throughout the years. In the end, the primary distinction between unipolar depression and bipolar depression (disorder) is that the latter contains both manic and sad moods while the former excludes times of excessively excited mood.

What is the difference between bipolar disorder and bipolar depression?

Bipolar disorder and bipolar depression are not the same thing, but they are linked.

Manic depression, often known as bipolar illness, is a mental health condition marked by dramatic fluctuations in mood, energy, and activity levels. Bipolar disorder patients have bouts of depression (low mood) and periods of mania or hypomania (high mood). These mood swings are more dramatic than the typical ups and downs that most individuals go through.

Bipolar disorder is classified into two types:

Bipolar I Disorder:

characterized by episodes of full-blown mania lasting at least seven days, as well as periods of significant depression.

Bipolar II Disorder:

It is characterized by bouts of sadness and hypomania (a lesser form of mania), but not by full-fledged mania.

Bipolar depression is a symptom of bipolar disorder. It refers to the condition’s depressive phase, during which the sufferer has episodes of major depression. 

During these times, people may have a poor mood, a loss of interest in activities, exhaustion, sleep difficulties, feelings of worthlessness, and suicidal ideation. Bipolar depression alternates with mania or hypomania in people with bipolar disorder.

While bipolar disorder involves both depressive and manic/hypomanic episodes, not everyone with bipolar disorder experiences both. Some people have mostly depressive periods (bipolar depression), while others have more manic or hypomanic episodes.

Can lifestyle adjustments help manage bipolar depression in elderly individuals?

Yes, lifestyle adjustments can be beneficial in managing bipolar depression in elderly individuals. Maintaining a consistent daily routine, including regular sleep patterns, engaging in physical activity, and adopting stress-reducing techniques (such as mindfulness or relaxation exercises) can contribute to overall stability and well-being. Establishing a healthy diet and avoiding excessive use of alcohol or substances is also important.

End note!

As you are now familiar with the symptoms of bipolar depression in the elderly, you can provide crucial support to elderly individuals with bipolar depression by educating themselves about the condition, being understanding and patient, and promoting adherence to treatment plans. 

They can help create a stable and supportive environment, assist with medication management and scheduling, encourage participation in therapy or support groups, and foster open communication. It’s also important for caregivers to take care of their well-being and seek support when needed.